Technology Issues and Trends Pertaining to Workflow

Karen Matijak, VP-Strategic Initiative Delivery, NBTY
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I believe the biggest challenge in tackling workflow is delivering a solution that is both efficient and effective. I have found there are some proven tools and techniques that can be used to ensure both criteria are met to deliver meaningful, useful solutions.

Where do you start?

I am an advocate for starting with the end in mind and focusing specifically on a record (i.e., identifying the critical data that is needed). Then, once that is clearly defined by the business, dive into the process. Then, focus on the workflow or technology solution. In that order. Sounds simple in theory, but in practice requires discipline and skill in collaboratively working with the business users and IT teams.

  While BPM tools such as Appian are customizable and highly effective, stay focused on what the team needs to deliver 

Identifying and engaging with the key business stakeholders up-front is key. In my experience, business stakeholders do not typically ask for workflow. They ask for solutions to their problems. Gathering useful information regarding what data they need, what they will do with the data, who will consume the data, what questions need to be answered, how is the process working today, what information do they currently have, what works well today and what doesn’t, what will success look like for them, who owns the process, how will we measure success, how tech savvy are the people in the process, etc.…all of these are critical pieces of information to gather up-front to ensure the working team clearly understands the business needs.

Technology Solutions Enhance Workflow but Are Not the Only Key to Success

I’ve seen many approaches in delivering workflow and not all are effective! Some traps to avoid would be immediately translating all the business requirements into what fits into your standard technology solution. While BPM tools such as Appian are customizable and highly effective, stay focused on what the team needs to deliver. Choose how to deliver once the critical requirements are understood. Getting to the how requires a clear understanding of the must-have output (e.g. dashboard, analysis) and a clear understanding of the process (both as-is and to-be). Once the data needed is understood, use of common tools such as process mapping is an effective way to quickly and easily understand the as-is, current state. Acknowledgement and shared understanding of the current state is critical to the process owners and grants the team entry into leading the business to a more efficient future state via an automated solution. I have seen numerous projects fail because the process owners were not taken on a journey that lead them to understand how automated workflow was going to help them reach their business goal.  Rather, the project team seemed uninterested in learning about the current state process and immediately launched into developing a new workflow solution. The business team was told they would have workflow that would make their lives easier. So, immediately out of the gate, the focus became about the technology, the team lost sight of the goal and the business team struggled with how automated workflow was going to solve their business needs. In order not to fall into this trap, throughout the design process stay connected to the business goal and continue to connect how the solution will deliver the intended results. Be cautious when the goal seems to be shifting or changing. Scope creep is common. Consider a multi-generational implementation rather than trying to deliver additional functionality within the original timeline.

Once alignment is reached and the goals are clearly understood, the project team should work very quickly to deliver a demo of the workflow prototype (i.e., within days or weeks, not within months) for the business users. This also implies the team has sized the project properly to enable agile delivery. Business users typically do not reveal all critical requirements in your initial discussions. Once a prototype is placed in front of them, the team begins uncovering the next level of details about what is needed, what is most important, and how the business will use the information. I was quite amazed the first time we showed a project team consisting of both IT and the business process owners a very rough draft of their workflow solution. The “light bulbs” clicked on very quickly and the conversations were meaningful, direct and development time was significantly reduced. I believe, early visualization is critical to the business community and to the success of the solution. 

How Critical is Customization?

Here’s where both the efficiency and effectiveness come into play. In our personal lives we are in a world trending toward customization (e.g. 3D printing, sneakers made exactly to my requirements, etc.). And, by the way, we want that customized item immediately. Why would we think our business community would be happy with generic or out-of-the box solutions? Many times they believe their process is unique, special and unable to be replicated. And, waiting for months for a solution can be painful. They will lose interest and feel the development process is too complex. What adds insult to injury, after waiting months, is the team delivers solutions that feel clunky and the pizzazz the business owners were expecting are missing. The solution will meet their basic needs but an unpleasant user experience overshadows the fact the goal was reached. We might have created an efficient process, a solution that delivers the end result but the effectiveness is off the mark. In my opinion, this is where BPM applications seem to be the answer. Many of these applications can be written in hours or days vs. weeks or months. As technology evolves with BPM, we are able to deliver customized (and efficient) solutions very quickly and relatively inexpensively. Your likelihood of business adoption increases as you quickly deliver solutions that satisfy (and hopefully exceed) user expectations.

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